A Dream Fulfilled: Whales!

After many unsuccessful “whale watching” trips on both the East and West Coasts (and Hawaii!) over a period of many years, I finally got to see a whale in the ocean. Yes! Not only did I see one. I saw dozens. Off the coast of Monterey, CA. It was The. Best. Day. Ever. Thanks to the Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

Sea Wolf II, the Monterey Bay Whale Watch boat

Sea Wolf II, the Monterey Bay Whale Watch boat

My husband Mike and I boarded the Sea Wolf II, a 70′ twin-engined workhorse of a boat that sported an almost all-female crew (save for one deckhand). I mention the gender thing since on our last ocean foray — a sail on the Floridays — the crew was all-female  and we had the best sail ever; my spirits and hopes lifted that the women would somehow attract the whales. Stupid thought, but true.  Anyway.  Off we went, cruising past a spotted harbor seal, a sea otter on its back munching on something and a whole herd swarm of sea lions (man do they stink). We cruised for miles. The sun was shining, and Mike and I were in shirtsleeves, enjoying the ride. And then?

The crew saw  spouts! And from the size of them, they figured humpback whales were right ahead of the boat. As we drew closer Mike and I stood at the railing, anxious to get a peek. I didn’t really know what to expect since I’d never seen a whale in the wild before. That first spout I saw? I was like a little kid. I clapped my hands in delight.

Suddenly, we were surrounded by whales … and sea lions. According to our captain, the fish and krill the whales feed on were in a thick layer in the area we were motoring over.  We looked out, saw the hundreds of sea lions bobbing and swimming, then like a ballet, the sea lions  parted. And a whale would appear! It happened over and over again. The whales flipped their tails. They bounced up and out of the water then flopped back. They  swam in twos and threes. Together. They were having a wonderful time. And so was I. Photo after photo. I never tired of watching them.

Humpback whales have soft-looking tails; they are graceful animals.

Humpback whales have soft-looking tails; they are graceful animals.

By that time we had motored pretty far out and the wind kicked the ocean swells higher. Mike and I pulled on jackets and continued to enjoy our time on the ocean. The Monterey Bay is huge. And it has like a one-mile deep underwater canyon almost cutting it in half. We learned that’s why we saw such a variety of marine life: the canyon attracts all sizes and varieties of fish to its edges and depths. Did I mention the orange-hatted jellyfish?

Then?

See the spouts!

Spouts!

One of the crew saw larger spouts off in the distance, perhaps a mile or more away. They were pretty sure the spouts were large enough for them to be blue whales, which they had seen on an earlier tip. We took off in the direction. I had my fingers, now safely tucked away in gloves, crossed. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see the largest animal in the world? In its own habitat. The water got rougher the further out of Monterey Bay we travelled. I was thankful that Mike and I are good sailors.; some other folks on the boat weren’t as fortunate.

Before too long we were in the midst of  blue whales. To say they are huge is an understatement. They look like submarines when they surface. And the naturalist on board said that the huge portion of the whale that we saw is really only a small portion of it! The blue whales surrounding us dwarfed our 70′ boat; blues can be 90+’ long! And they are so graceful. They spouted. They flipped their tails. One even rolled so it looked like it was waving.

See the difference in the shape of the tail of a blue whale?!

See the difference in the shape of the tail of a blue whale?!

The trip was magical. We left at 2 pm and didn’t return to dock — all bundled up by then — until after 6 pm. The captain and crew were so knowledgable. And careful to keep us a safe distance from the animals. Even so, a couple of  humpbacks and blues we saw were curious enough to approach our boat. Like I said: Magical.

Have you ever seen whales in the ocean? What kind?

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